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Hartnett: Mets’ Jason Bay Proving The Cream Always Rises To The Top

(credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

(credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

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‘Hart of the Order’
By Sean Hartnett
» More Columns

There was good reason for Mets fans to be jubilant when Jason Bay signed a four-year deal worth $66 million in the winter of 2009.  Bay had been a consistent power threat throughout his career in Pittsburgh and Boston and was just awarded the 2009 Silver Slugger Award.

During his year and a half at Fenway, Bay’s abilities as a hitter made fans quickly forget about the feats of Manny Ramirez.  He was a key component for the Red Sox during their dispatching of the Los Angeles Angels in the 2008 ALDS.  Bay slugged two home runs during the series and feasted on Angels’ pitching with an average of .412 and 5 RBI.  Though Boston would fall to Tampa Bay in the ALCS, blame could not be assigned to Bay who batted .292 with a home run and 4 RBI.

2009 was an even stronger year for Bay as he reached the high water mark of his career.  He set new highs in home runs (36) and RBI (119) while being named an All-Star for a third time.  Bay completed a streak of 11 straight home runs with men on base that was one short of the MLB record.  The Angels avenged their 2008 defeat by sweeping the Red Sox in the 2009 ALDS and Bay was set to test the free-agency market.

The contract the Mets handed Bay seemed steep but it was difficult to criticize the decision.  The Canadian outfielder appeared to be a very steady ballplayer since winning the 2004 NL Rookie of the Year.  His debut year at Citi Field turned out to be a disaster as he struggled to figure out the pitcher-friendly park and his season was cut short to 95 games after suffering a concussion.  Even before the injury, Bay’s familiar power stroke was sapped as he only managed 6 home runs in 348 at-bats.

2011 was supposed to be clean slate for Bay, but a rib injury forced him to miss Opening Day.  When he did return to the Mets’ lineup on April 21, he was forced to figure things out on the fly.  May was a miserable month for Bay who went on several long droughts without an extra base hit.  He became the target of the boo birds at Citi Field and Mets fans dreaded watching him with two strikes.  It seemed almost an eventuality that Bay would flail at strike three as fans couldn’t bear watching, covering their eyes in horror as if they were watching a gory slasher film.

It was difficult understand how an All-Star caliber player had turned feeble so quickly.  At 32, it wasn’t like Bay was nearing the end of his career.  Citi Field’s vast dimensions could be partially blamed but at this point, it wouldn’t have made a difference if Bay was playing at a Little League field as he wasn’t putting the ball into play.

Suddenly, in mid-June, Bay caught fire.  Starting on June 15, he collected four multi-hit games in six appearances.  Bay’s average began rising toward respectability near the .250 mark and his once worrisome play in the clutch improved.  He delivered a walk-off single against the rival Yankees in the final game of the Subway Series and Bay’s world sharply turned upside down… or shall I say right side up.

Bay is currently on an eight-game hitting streak in which he’s collected 12 RBI.  He’s gone from being an assumed out to a once-again feared presence at the plate.  To the shock of Mets fans everywhere, Bay drove out two long balls at Dodger Stadium last night — but really, should they be surprised?

It was just a matter of time before Bay would find himself as there was no way his misery would continue for the remainder 2011 season.  You can only hold down someone of Bay’s talent for so long.  Eventually, the cream will rise to the top.

Met fans, what do you make of Bay’s rise to form?  Sound off below and send your tweets to @HartyLFC.